Boys Varsity Basketball to Play in Prestigious Gridley Invitational

The Weston Ranch boys varsity basketball team will travel to Gridley today to participate in one of the most prestigious pre-season tournaments, the Gridley Invitational. Boasting some of the best high school programs from the Bay Area, Sacramento Valley, and San Joaquin Valley, the Gridley tourney promises to push the Cougars and continue to test the Cougars early in the season.

The Cougars will go into the tournament with an 0-3 record, something they have not been in quite some time. After suffering early season defeats at the hands of Dougherty Valley, Dublin, and most recently, Archbishop Riordan, the Cougars are looking to not only pull even in the win column but also to work on getting back the dominance they showed last year as they rolled toward winning the Division III Section title.

The Gridley Invitational is no ordinary basketball tournament. In its 66th year of existence, the GIT boasts participating teams are the top California basketball teams. In fact, the GIT was so popular at its inception that teams would forego the end of year Tournament of Champions, where teams were crowned as the best in the State, to get the chance to play in the more prestigious GIT. Eventually, the CIF chose to have one end of season tournament, which forced the GIT to play in the pre-season. Still, the GIT maintains its prestige, and an invitation means any team invited is pretty unique, and its inclusion is an honor.

The Cougars will have a tough road to travel if they want to be crowned the GIT champion. The Cougars will open up with Campolindo High School of Moraga, a team that won the CIF Division II State Championship in 2019. Campolindo enters the game 3-1 and riding a three-game winning streak. The Cougars come into the matchup 0-3, a record rarely seen at Weston Ranch.

“It’s been rough so far,” said senior point guard Titus Haley. “But, trust is getting better, the culture is getting better, and we have been playing better as a team.”

Part of the issue with WR’s 0-3 record is its reputation as a premier high school basketball program. Last year’s Division III title and the subsequent entrance into the Open Division for the State Championship has placed the Cougars into a precarious situation. They can’t schedule teams who will not make them better in the long run. They have to play bigger, stronger, and tougher teams early in the year if they want to have a shot at another title and a deeper run in the Open Division.

Last year’s VOL Player of the Year, Gavin Wilburn, sees this as an opportunity and not a burden.

“Playing the best gets you better,” Wilburn told The Prowl. “It doesn’t feel good to lose, but we’ve learned from each loss. Our communication is better, and our overall team play has improved.”

Haley concurred.

“To be the best, you have to play the best,” Haley said. “The losses are humbling experiences. But, they’re also eye-openers for us to learn from. I’m not worried about being 0-3. We’ve been working harder, and hard work will pay off.”

Potential second-round opponents are Salesian College Preparatory of Richmond, who was ranked as the Nor-Cal’s number 2 team. Salesian would be a second tough matchup assuming the Cougars get past Campolindo. Also on the horizon is Archbishop Riordan, whom the Cougars took to overtime on December 10thbut eventually lost. A possible rematch with Dublin could also await the Cougars should Dublin make its way out of the top of the bracket. The Cougars could avenge an earlier loss to both Dublin or Riordan should everything fall into place.

Haley said, “We expect to play Salesian in the second round. It would be great to play them and then face Riordan or Dublin. We learned from losing to them and would like to get another shot at them.”

Before the games begin, the Cougars will get acclimated to the tournament’s site, the rules, and meeting their host families. Players from each school stay with host families, as opposed to staying with their team in hotels.

Wilburn said, “Coach Teevan told us we’ve been trying to get into this tournament for a long time. It’s a great honor, and the experience will mean a lot to us. We’re ready to put some things behind us and take on this challenge.”

Only time will tell how the Cougars react to early adversity and how they react to playing three more high-caliber programs. Knowing the Cougars, they will respond with energy and compete at the highest level.

Best of luck to the Cougars as they pursue the title. Check-in with The Prowl’s Twitter page @WRHSjournalism for updates throughout the weekend.